Jen Dodds: BSL/English interpreters are for hearing people too (BSL)

Posted on April 1, 2015

Since I wrote an article for NUBSLI recently, I’ve been thinking about how words affect the way we behave and do stuff.

To watch this article in BSL, press play below. Or scroll down to read it in English.

After all, as I said in that article, “BSL interpreter” doesn’t actually mean anything. The correct job title is BSL/English interpreter, reflecting how interpreting involves two languages – because BSL/English interpreters aren’t just there for deaf people – hearing people need them too.

It’s important to try and get the balance right. I’ve noticed that a lot of deaf people try to regain power by seeing BSL/English interpreters as “theirs”, like some kind of weapon.

Erm. Two things about that…

1) You can’t control BSL/English interpreters – their job is simply to interpret between two languages.
2) Hearing people need to communicate with deaf people, so they need BSL/English interpreters too!

Imagine, for example, a hearing doctor needs to treat their deaf patients. If the doctor doesn’t have access to a BSL/English interpreter (or if they have an unqualified “interpreter”), they won’t be able to treat their patients properly, and thus will fail in their duty of care.

Or, what if a group of work colleagues, both deaf and hearing, need to have a meeting to discuss something important that’s going on at work, but no BSL/English interpreters are available? The hearing people involved may struggle with communication… they need interpreters too!

Another example might be how a hearing university lecturer teaching a chemistry course won’t be able to teach properly if one of their students happens to be deaf, but there’s no BSL/English interpreter. Obviously, hearing people get stuck too.

I do think we need to change how we think about these things – deaf and hearing people should be seen as equals – we ALL sometimes need interpreters to get on with stuff.

And finally, the government’s cuts to BSL/English interpreting affect hearing people too! The Access to Work cuts and caps mean many deaf and hearing people are going to find it difficult to work together.

Also, the national framework agreement could mean that service providers get away with bringing in unqualified “interpreters”, depending on what kind of contracts are in place.

So, for example, this means that hearing doctors won’t be able to fulfil their duty of care; if they can’t communicate with their deaf patients properly, they can’t treat them properly.

I think that’s something worth thinking about.

Jen Dodds is a Contributing Editor for The Limping Chicken. When she’s not looking after chickens or children, Jen can be found translating, proofreading and editing stuff over at Team HaDo Ltd ( On Twitter, Jen is @deafpower.

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